Wed, 13 Aug 2003

Officials charged with illegal logging in NTB

Luh Putu Trisna Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post, Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara

Police here are investigating at least eight officials of the Central Lombok forestry office as suspects charged with involvement in illegal logging in three protected forests in the regency.

Three of the suspects have officially been detained at the West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) Police Headquarters for intensive questioning.

Chief of provincial police detectives Adj. Sr. Comr. I Dewa Putu Maningkajaya said the number of suspects could increase as the investigations continued.

"The head of Central Lombok forestry office has yet to become a suspect. The suspects are those operating in the field. Other suspects will be named depending on the result of investigations," he said on Monday.

Maningkajaya did not rule out the possibility that Central Lombok Regent Lalu Suhaimi would be among new suspects. "The regent's status will depend on the development of the investigations. He could be questioned as a witness for the first time."

The charges were laid after police in the province seized 3,828 logs in April, which were allegedly cut down from three protected forests in Pondok Gedang, Talun Ambon Peseng and Lingkuk Lima -- all in Central Lombok.

The illegal logging was allegedly approved by the local forestry office, which received the endorsement from the Central Lombon regent through Decree No. 48/2003, dated April 1.

The decree recommends the establishment of a team to manage and sell logs confiscated from illegal loggers.

Suhaimi denied the logs seized by the police had been cut from protected forests, instead filing a lawsuit against the NTB police chief over the charge.

The police said the logging violated Law No. 41/1999 on forestry.

The charges received support from head of the NTB forestry office Baderun Zainal, who confirmed that the seized logs had been taken from the protected forests.

"We just knew that the logging had taken place in the protected forests after police seized the logs," he said.

Commenting on the decree issued by the Central Lombok regent, Zainal said it did not mention that the logging would be carried out in protected forests.

"A copy of the letter was sent to us. But it did not mention the precise location of the logging -- only in Central Lombok regency," he added.

As the regent insisted that the logging was not in violation of the law, the NTB legislative council set up a special committee to investigate the case.

Syaiful Islam, who chairs the inquiry committee, threw his weight behind the police move to charge the suspects.

"What has been taken by the provincial police complies with prevailing procedures, so it's clear that the seized logs had been taken from protected forests," he said.

He urged the regent to revoke the decree because it violated Law No. 41/1999 on forestry.

Islam made the comments after he and other members of the committee met with the suspects, who admitted they could not reject their superiors' order to fell the trees in the protected forests.

"Basically, they said that as subordinates, they did not dare refuse the order from their superiors who had issued the decree," Islam said.